Javaid Tariq, Co-Founder of New York Taxi Workers Alliance

Javaid Tariq –
Recorded by Deepa Ranganathan

inside the car, with blinker light on, and windshield wipers.

1:05 my name is javaid tariq, I’m driving a yellow cab in new york city, also a co founder and organizing committee member of new york taxi worker alliance, non profit org to help cab drivers and other working class people which included in this industry, like garage mechanics and other car service drivers and anybody who is connected with this cab industry, so we help tem to solve their problems, like that.

1:46 I’m from pakistan and born there, I raised up there. During my college time there was a lot of political problems, I had to face when there was a martial law government, so I left my country and I came to America and I took asylum here. ********* and started doing odd jobs and one day I saw in the newspaper there was a lot of cab drivers pictures who was killed while driving. At that time I was studying photography in new school. I had one project in my mind to do documentary photographs about cab drivers life. Each cabdriver he has a family back home, they work hard, when get killed what happened to families emotionally and financially?

3:15 I start thinking doing a project on cab drivers life with my photographs, so I made my hack license and I started driving cab because you cannot complete any project unless you get involved by yourself. As a cab driver I can feel what their problems are, I started driving cab with my camera and started taking pictures of cab drivers.

4:00 meanwhile I met bhairavi desai. She was working with cab drivers, working with caav, committee agianst anti Asian violence, have one project called ldc, lease driver coalition, she started job there and basically going to help the driver. But she didn’t want to sit in office and help driver, because drivers are with cabs and sometimes no parking available, not enough outreach. At that time a lot of people hate crimes were happening with drivers so bhai decided to come out and meet the drivers and talk to them, she met me also and she told me she is trying to organize drivers. It is a huge industry, 40, 50,000 drivers working day and night. 70 percent from south asia. At first she was interested only in south asian drivers, and when she talked to me it was really a great idea to organize them because while I was driving I got experience, driver facing a lot of problems, police not treating well, tlc not treating well, public has no education about this industry. And a lot of robberies and other things happening with drivers. I felt it is really very stressful job and we have to do this thing, started working with bhai and biju matthew to organize the drivers.

6:11 it was in 1997, and in august 1997 we have our first protest against taxi and limousine commission about harshness of this job. We had a rally with the cabs going from lower east side to city hall with their cabs, we were expecting only maybe a couple hundred or just a few cabs gonna come. But when we reach there – it is very scattered labor, it is not a factory that you can reach every factory worker right in factory, scattered labor, drivers all over city, best way was outreach, going to airports, penn station and port authority to give flyers and unite them. ***********

7:22 day had rally really big scene, first time city saw how many cabs came. When this thing happen, every color of driver, every driver came. We had big meeting with drivers, everybody came, everybody wanted to be united. At that time caav put a restriciton on us, told us cannot have mass membership, I don’t know, maybe they have political pressure. But we wanted a mass membership. Bhairavi resigned to the caav and we sit together, did not have any funds, did not have any money, just a few committee members sit together, decided have own independent org. which we got in feb. 1998. **********

9:30 I started driving a cab for my art project but I got involved organizing the drivers. So when I started I must keep driving, trying ot unite drivers, have organization called ny taxi worker alliance in feb 1998. at that time didn’t’ have funds so organized committee members and put money from own pocket to make flyers and give rent. Meantime tlc introduced new rules which was very harsh for the drivers.

10:30 these rules had bad impact on drivers, raises a lot of fine from 25 to 100 dollar, and 100 dollar fine have to pay 4, 500, started giving double ticketing for one violation, you get two tickets one for dmv and one for tlc. Every rule in favor of garage owners, not in favor of driver. We thought just to speak up against these rules, decided to have a strike. So we started working on a strike and may 13, 1998, have historic stirke in nyc, which shows that a driver from 90 nations are united on one platform, under NYTWA Banner, 99 percent successful strike. Since that time we are working harder and harder day and night to unite drivers. At this point have more than 5500 members, goal is making more and more day by day.

12:44 this is my livelihood to drive a cab. If I don’t drive cab now it’s hard for me to reach out to all driver and to know what’s the real problem driver are facing, so while I’m a driver by myself, I drive and through driving experience, also my job, I can understand what other driver feels, what is their problems and how much hard work they do and how little money they make and what problems in this industry they are facing day and night. My own experience, and I am trying ot change, to get some change in this industry, and also because it is scattered labor, had to reach drivers. So while driving self, I can do outreach for nytwa, when we are at airport I start talking to other driver, give tem flyer, the come to me when they have little problem, ask whats’s going on. ********** easy way to reach out to drivers.

14:22 in this industry, it is very different kind of industyr, eveyr driver has to start their work with minus money, because it is not a system like it used to be before, you go to garage, pick up cab, work, finish shift, and whateve rmoney you make you split 49 and 51 percent. ********* now tlc introduce lease cab system, it like you go to garage, pay money in advance for whole shift and then you take cab, and then you work 12 hours, you put gas by yourself. Now depends on your luck, how much money you make you start shift with 105, 110 dolar advance. If after 12 hours, you just make 200, 110 you minus fo rlease, 20 for gas, then only get 40-60 dollars a day. Sometimes it’s worse, other times it’s okay if you get good passenger. If you are sick, are leasing a cab on a weekly basis, and you pay a lease for 7 days, fi you are sick for one or two days, you are paying lease from own pocket. Garage owner is not going to give you credit for that lease. That is why you keep working, working 7 days a week. ********* also for drivers who own car and lease medallion through boirkers, for them it is more hard because contract for 2.5 years until car is paid off and if you are sick and cannot go for one, two week work, cannot pay lease, garage owner is going to took your car back, and you lose all payemnts. Like 2.5 years you are stcuk with contract and keep working working 7 days a week, and for your 2.5 months.

17:30 – through my own experience about public, in the beginning it was very hard, the public was not thinking good for us, they were thinking like we are pariah of new york. People from third world contruy coming in, working hard, don’t know english, public not paying attention what is the reality. But after we started our org, we have a lot of lot of information for the public through paper media and through tv, that public should know what is the reality, how we are paying lease in advance, how this industry work, and we don’t just take lessons and start driving a ca,b every cab driver has to give exam to tlc about english reading, english listening, knowing geography and then they get license means driver knows english, sometimes hard ot hear from passenger, we have partition in the middle, cannot ehar propoerly, people think driver does not know english. ********** we are working here, more experience in driving, we not just regular driver, this is our profession. We drive as professional. After so many years giving gneral info t public, nowadays our customers are very good, they understand our situation, they are very polite and very nice to driversa but still have lot of pboelsm al the time.

20:10 – my major was history while I was studying in pakistan, very intersted in history, also involved in college of politics, active member of a political party in pakistan. In beginnign I felt a lot of racism, thorugh a lot of passengers, they were talking very nasty to us, and they were like, because we gdrivers are mostly people of color, nighttime I had a very bad experience taking some passenger to different areas which are very isolated ghetto kind of areas in bronx or brooklyn. We had a lot of bad experience getting robbed by passengers, but by law we cannot refuse any passneger. Tlc thinks driver are racist but we are not, by ourself we are people of color. Sometimes taking paseenger to different areas are very dangerous for us. We have to go through big danger.

22:00 lot of time pass didn’t pay fare and run away, they hit me at night time, took money, didn’t pay. Mostly if somebody take our fare and run away, the safest way is to just stay in your cab and let him go, if you get out from your cab and go behidn him, it is very dangerous, these people have some kind of weapon, they can hit you, and on other hand, tlc there is law the driver cannot have any kind of weapon in cabs for their protection. So there is also rule they introduced even though tlc they’re going to find out any screwdriver in frnt of your cab, have to pay heavy fine, going to consider as a weapon, working day and night, this kind of of, screwdriver or other things, we need to repair our cars, screwdriver always keep in trunk, not in front, against the law.

24:00 may 13, early in morning, me and bhai decide we were first people to come to penn station and give interview, bhai coming from penn station I was coming from queens where I live. On subway I saw from subway, cabs parked on street at 6 o clock morning, while 6 o clock morening, queensboro bridge full of yellow cabs coming to manhattan for work, that day I did nto see a single cab crossing the bridge. When I reached penn station I came out I did not see any cab, also surprised our struggle really working, drivers are listening us. ***********

25:26 bhai gave interview to tv station, then we walked to strike headquarters near port authority, lot of cab drivers keep coming to join our strike in our headquarters and we saw – we got reports from all over places because a lot of our oc members, they were driving in their private cars to go to airport and other places to see how it works, we heard not a single cab at airport lot, not at other places, 12,000 cabs, only 200 cabs was dispatched, which mostly people dind’t kjnow, more than 100 cabs right away when back to their garages, heard about striek and went back, it was 99 percent strike, made huge news in nyc. Was very successful, saw driver being united. **************

27:00 as a driver losing money during our strikes, I lost a lot. I owned that cab and I was leasing a medallion, so many weeks I didn’t’ work, ********* just keep working on strike day and night, meeting with diff restaurants with diff ethnic groups, having meetings in different residential areas where more driver lives, in near – I was paying the lase from my own pocket, I could not work, making only 40-50 dollars a day working 12 hours, so losing that 3-4 weeks lease and not making any money, 4-5000. I owned cab but was leasing medallion, have to pay medallion lease every week.

30:02 for many weeks before strike I did not work, I was paying medallion lease and car payment from own pocket. It was like 6,7000 dollar I lost. But I was vey happy to see that the struggle to unite the driver is really good. Good to see our work is done very good. **********

32:14 – I think (horn) mostly people who come here and living in this country, their mind is completely different as we were growing up in our country, because in our country lot of politician, religious fanatic people, they always keep putting hatred in our mind. But when we came hwere and we were working, we never thought we were from india pak bangladesh, we always thought we were cab driver. ********* I did not see hatred while working between two communities, india and pakistan, bhai is from india, (NOT TRUE) biju mathew is from indai, we have our oc member from bangladesh, from other african countries and other countires. We are going alog with eacho ther very good. We neve rhad any kind of back home politics in our mind. We all think as a human, as a same collegue. ********* we all are driver, we all have same problems, we are working together, and like – I’m going to one indian restaurant since 12 years to go eat my food there because I like, we speak same language, we have same culture, same kind of food, I don’t care about what other people have religion, we think we all are human, and to having different religions, everybody’s personal beliefs. Never had any kind of fight with each other, never any kidn of hatred between each other, all drivers going very good with each other. Our cause is different, we are not fighting for pakistan or india here, fighting for our own economic problems. **************

35:30 – I am muslim. … 35:41 – it wa s alonely job, we only met our people when we have a break, have restroom, different restaurant, we meet our people to talk to each other or when we are styaing with airport lot waiting to get our turn, there we were talking, slowly slowly from our strike, people had one thing to share with each other, so that thing come more effective, they start talking more about these all issues, before here is pak comm standing, there is bangla comm standing, indian driver standing, during our strike, when we were doing outreach, they got one issue to talk with each other, so got more combine and talking to each other about stike and taxi worker alliance, that thing also bring them together more than before.

37:13 we started campaign with cb radios, I had cb radio in my cab, indian member bangla member had radio, our latino member have cb radio in cab, started communicating on these issues, drivers got more interested in talking with eahc other. Aftter cell phone came to market, now drivers are more in touch with each other through cell phone esp at night time, also cell phone is heklping a lot to stop crimes against drivers, a lot of bad pasesnger thinking to rob drivers, now he knows driver on cell phone, somebody mnight be listening, can convey a problem in a second to the police. Also more safety.

39:17 we are very proud we get awareness in drivers, they know have rights and how to unite thesmelves. ************ Before no union or org working for drivers. T her ewas one mafia kind of union which when I started job, when I go to garage I have to get my cab, but first I have to pay 3 dollars in machine and get ticket and give to dispatcher and then get cab. I ask this 3 dollar, why am I paying? They say it is union fund. Each driver have to pay 3 dollars for union fund but we did not know union members, how working, how helping drivers. First thing on strike, we saw union was nobody knows about this members was disappear, nobody paying 3 dollars to any vending machine ot get a cab. Drivers started talking more about rights, after strike work a lot to change rule, we stopped double ticketing, we stopped inhuman treatment to dirver by tlc, always big lines in front of tlc’s office, driver has to go to for their hearings or for license renewal or other rhings, most drivers lining up at 12 0’clock night when office go to open next day 9, in snow or rain standing in lines around block, we took media there, we took journalists there to let them see how tlc is treating to the driver, and so the line was ended and tlc started their work more quickly to finish as soon as possible as driver and limo commissions’ work was very slow, they were not working properly in offices to help drivers. They were coming because they had to for – different reasons, some drive was for license renewal, some for their summons, some for putting name on hack license for other drivesr, for diff reasons dirver had to go to office, but there were like capacity of 300 drivers, there was like 3000 drivers going to office because tlc work very slow. Through our media work these lines ending because tlc is working more fast to help drivers.

43:25 in beginning tlc did not recognize us, tlc chairwoman was saying we don’t know this is a little group of drivers, we are troublemakers, in july giuliani said taxi terrorists, this kind of comments they gave.

44:44 it was complete racist remarks, we feel very bad about this, we were hardworking people, we were fighting for our economic situation, and we live in this country, we love this country, we are thinking by ourself a part of this country, we are new yorker too, serving millions of people everyd ay in nyc. We are feeling ourself a new york and a part of this community and this is our job and we want to give good service to new york people. ***********

45:05 I came to this country because this was the most democracy country, everyone has freedom to speak their voice. to listen to this kind of communication INTS it was hurting us very badly.

46:20 – got fare incrase, trying to raise lease a lot, got a big amount of fare for dirvers. ********

46:50 – in beginning drivers feeling very alone, major thing gain is awareness in drivers community to fight for their rights, that was biggest thing, now if driver has problems, right away contact to us, *********what is prolem facing, what’s going on, now the know they have some union which is helping them, and most of our organizing committee members they are driver by temself. They drive always in touch with driver community. They drive, they talk their problems. …

50:43 drivers are not just working class people. Lot are very educated people. This is the only job which will suit to a lot of students, their schedule, no other job where they can go and work whenever they want. Lot of drivers are students too, go to universties. I met 4-5 doctors from pakistan, india, nighttime going to school, day time driving, have books in cabsw, while waiting in line they were reading their books. When finish school now doctors and have jobs. Not just ignorant or bad people, there is a lot of educated bad people involved in driving. ***************** sometime people come for a few weeks or months and when done with job leave and go, not steady drivers, always keep coming new comer in this job.

52:25 – as I see it mostly pakistanis are migrating to america, to new york, last 20 years. So it’s like a one person is driving cab and if a newcomer come to new york, his roommate is a cabdriver, his friend is a cab driver, so got more info this driving and go into driving. Like all other communities, lot of arabic people have these food vendor, so they come and start their work. Just because of what your community people are doing in beginning. Newcomer comes and get involve din same kind of job. *********** and also mostly people came not very educated, mostly educated back home, into computer tech or doctors so just go to their jobs, but mostly punjabi people or pak people are from villages, ewre not too much educated. ******* working for a low wage is under a boss, it was really bad for me, while I was working odd jobs and boss is yelling at me I said feeling very mad, I want to do work I am the boss, I odn’t have to be yelled at. So like this, lot of people think that driving cab at least nobody is yelling at them and they are not educated enough to do another job. ************

54:55 I was a salesman in beginning, then started construction work, doing construction work I was feeling comfortable, at first a kind of exercise, when back home was doing weightlifting, won a title for weightlifter, it was exercise for me too. And to make something by own hand, after finish that work, I feel I am a creator. That’s why doing construction work. But during my study about photography, I got into driving and got stuck. ************

Track 2 – ambience. Sound of rain on roof.

Track 3 – 1:00 shifts are 5 a.m. to 5 pm, usually driver works 5 am. To 5 pm.

Track 4- car is mine but 2.5 year contract with garage owners, until car paid off, going to keep paying medallion lease. If today I lease medaliion they’re going to take me to court, or keep my car (2:30) – our two partners if one day I am one hour late, second day give him one hour earlier. Very imp for me to cont driving myself, if not driving I’m out of touch with reality, don’t knw what drivers facing.

Track 4 5:33 half day have to drive to make up lease money. 12 hour shift but driver works 10-11 hours, need to go to bathroom, have dinners.

7:52 I came to new york in 1990, 15 years ago. Rainy day, this kind of day, driver business is really good, but traffic slow so almost the same economically. (lot of backgruond noise from the driving. I live in queens.

Track 6 – new yorkers had a really big tragedy and had a problem with muslim people but slowly getting better because educated people know, reality. That was the immediately reaction, that – people wa s a little bit against muslims but now it’s better. It was better we shouldn’t have to talk to passengers about stuff, politics – we are also – I’m living 15 years here, feel also new yorker, as other new yorkers got emotionally hurt I got emotionally hurt, I psent 15 years in this city, I love this city.

Track 8 – big traffic sounds, sounds kind of like traffic, you can hear people talking, bus squealing, engine thrumming, little honks. 1:48 car door shuts.